A Day in Downieville

So it’s been awhile since I’ve been on my dirtbike.

I attribute this to a whole lot of factors. But last weekend, with the help and urging of my dad, I got back on the bike for the first time in almost 11 months.

And I’m happy I did.

YO-SEM-ITE!

Initial posts to this blog showcased C and I in Red Rocks, with our group of climbing friends on our annual New Years trip. This group also has an annual summer trip down to the Valley of Yosemite. As in traditional fashion, I packed up my running, climbing and river-lounging gear soon after I finished my last final of the quarter and headed to the mountains.

Even after having spent several weekends already this year on the drive to the valley, I still can never shake the huge grin that spans my face the instant the valley grasses turn to trees and the smell of pine trees and forest soil permeates the car. My trip started with a lazy day hanging out in the hot sun, with periodic dips into the snow-melt river. I was relaxing in preparation for a long run the next day.

My run started later than planned, since I had little motivation to get out of my sleeping bag into the chilly morning air of camp 4. Oh well, this would just give me a little bit of intense, high elevation sun training. My initial plan, based on a recommendation from a friend who knew the trails well, was to run from the valley out to Merced Lake and back. It sounded perfect, since there would be lots of runnable miles once I was out of the valley and well populated enough that I didn’t have to worry over the issue of running alone.

I was prepared for whatever fate wanted to throw at me that day. In my Nathan hydration pack I managed to squeeze in: 5-6 luna/ cliff bars, 4 GUs, 1 PB&H, 2 Liters of water plus a pack of iodine pills for treating stream refills, a cell phone, and a lighter, just in case I was out there longer than expected ;). A little bit of overkill? Maybe. But the feeling I had from being comfortable enough to last a couple days out there? Totally worth it.

I started my way up the crowded mist trail, yearning to get out away from the theme park-like lines that crowd the trails close to the valley. At the bottom of Vernal Falls, I decided to take the JMT instead of the mist trail to get to the top, in favor of less people. As my luck would have it, I missed the turnoff to continue towards Little Yosemite and ended up going the opposite direction, towards Glacier Point. After realizing my mistake and looking at milages for various points, I then changed my plan to run out to Buena Vista Lake and then back the same way.

I ran over rolling hills in a hot, exposed area that had recently burned. I could really feel the intense rays and I slowed down quite a bit. Once the trail took a downward path, back into the trees, I could once again feel comfortable and pick back up the pace. About 7mi in, the trail wound down close to a large river, raging from the large amounts of snowpack that was now melting. I immediately hoped that my trail wouldn’t dead end at the river, but in my gut, I knew it was probably true. The river was completely impassable where the trail intersected, but I decided to follow the water upstream for awhile in attempt to find a calmer section.

The river didn't look very friendly :/

I saw a few other footprints on the bank, and hoped that they’d lead me to a safe crossing. After about 20 minutes of bushwhacking alongside the river, I was about ready to turn back.Then, up ahead, I saw 4 guys who were obviously backpacking, looking to cross the river. “Can I cross with you guys!?!” I yelled as I clumsily made my way through some bushes to get over to where they were standing. The look that they gave me was obvious that they doubted my abilities to be out here in the mountains. “Where is all of your gear?” they replied, obviously skirting the question. To them I must have looked crazy. Some girl, all alone in the backcountry, with tiny running shorts, a tank top, and a very small pack on my back(little did they know how much power I had from that pack), trying to go for a “jog”, as they put it.

After a little bit of convincing, they agreed to let me cross with them. They informed me that I’d be able to take an alternate trail around the river after I crossed and wouldn’t have to go through it again. I started making my way across, following what seemed to be the strongest guy in the group. Once I got to the middle of the river I panicked a little. The river was bitter cold, mid-thigh depth and moving faster than I’ve ever felt water push. Having just seen the last mile of river below me, I knew that I didn’t want to be carried away. I reached my hand out to this stranger as he looked back to check on me. I tightly gripped his hand as I shuffled my way to the other side. After much thanks to the people who were the reason I was able to continue my run (in case your wondering, no, I would not have tried to cross if they weren’t there. I would’ve sucked up my pride and turned around), I wound my way back down the river to hook back up with the trail.

I saw the intersection where I’d be able to get back to the valley by going out towards Glacier Point to avoid re-crossing the river. I took the other fork towards Buena Vista Lake, now excited for a refreshing mid-run swim that didn’t involve fearing for my life. This section of the trail had obviously not been used very often. There were so many downed trees from the winter’s storms, which left travel slow and difficult. It was

Just a little rough

beautiful, though. I couldn’t help taking a few minutes to stop and soak in my surroundings. Huge, snow-covered peaks surrounded the ridge that I was following. I was in awe. As I started nearing the lake, I could practically smell the refreshing water that I’d soon be jumping in. The expected just isn’t my style, though, and I guess an easy run to the lake just wasn’t in store for me today. I came upon one particularly large log across the trail that I had to climb over. Just as I got to the top, feeling like whale, trying to kick myself over the large object, I noticed a new friend on the trail. Right there in front of me, but facing the opposite direction and moseying along the trail, was a huge black bear! At first I was a little stunned. I’ve only seen a few bears in the wild before, and they were always along the road while I was driving or really far away. After a minute I came back into my head and sat in wonderment of how cool this was! I felt in no way threatened- this guy looked like he’d much rather take a nap then mess with me. I clapped my hands a few times so he’d know I was there, but he barely even looked back long enough for me to catch a glimpse of his long, brown snout. (I apologize for the lack of bear pics. He had already turned the corner by the time my brain remembered to pull out the camera!)

:)

Even though he wasn’t looking for a confrontation, I decided that it would be best to make my turnaround at this point, rather than trying to wait for him to get off the path. I reached the fork and headed out to Glacier Point, on recommendation from the people who helped me cross, but after just a few miles, I hit another river! I couldn’t believe it! This one wasn’t nearly as big, but the water was still moving way faster then I felt comfortable with. I took the same course of action as last time and headed upstream in search of a calmer path. Much to my surprise, I came running up on the same 4 guys! Luckily, there was an easy crossing and I spent a few minutes talking and marveling at our chance meeting. After thanking them again, I continued on my way. This section of trail was much more forested and although the hill was pretty steep, I had a lot of fun. I reached the intersection of the Panorama Trail and knew that it would take me back towards Nevada Falls, where I could follow the same trail I had come up.

This section was absolutely gorgeous. It had such expansive views of the valley that I just soaked in. Because of the heavy snows this winter, the waterfalls were massive! There were also several other smaller waterfalls that normally don’t even exist. The meadow far down below looked as if it was a perfectly manicured golf course, the way it was so green. I passed over Illilouette Falls, the eventual outlet of the two forks of river I had crossed earlier in the day. Crossing the bridge over the crest of the falls capped a truly epic run. The rest of the way went (fairly) smoothly. I wasn’t a huge fan of the climb after crossing the falls, but other than that, I cruised back down to the valley.

Nevada Falls

After being on my feet all day, I greatly appreciated the decision of a few friends to  buy some pizza and beer and relax for the evening. My brain and body needed it.

I’ve come to learn that the longer of distances I try to run, the more likely I am to face unexpected and exciting challenges and adventures. Even though this run led me through  some scary moments, they are what will motivate me to get back out on the trails and explore. This is what’s fun. This is why I run.

The Western States (Half) Story

I woke at 3:45. Three alarms had been set, but only one went off. Everything was laid out in the hotel room from the night before. I flicked on the lights, pushed the “on” button on the coffee pot, and poured myself some cereal. As I sat there alone at the table, I was surprised at how calm I was. In about an hour, I was about to begin what I hoped to be an ordeal that would last more than a full day, and I was still able to crunch down my Honey Bunches of Oats. I’m not sure why I was calm, but I think part of it was the fact that the task at hand was so big that I just couldn’t quite comprehend its magnitude. Instead, I simply chose not to comprehend anything. I just sat there and ate. I went through the motions to get ready, woke up Kristen, and met my parents downstairs. We walked together through the dark village at Squaw Valley to the pre race weigh-in and bib pickup. The lodge was packed with runners, families, volunteers, and supporters. It was 4:30. As I made my way through the crowd to the required stations, I brushed past the likes of Dave Mackey and Andy Jones-Wilkins, and marveled at the fact that I was in the presence of greats. The whole thing still wasn’t really registering with me.

Eventually everyone in the warm, stuffy room began shuffling toward the doors to the start line on the patio outside. Five minutes to go. My dad and Kristen headed off up the hill a little ways to get pictures of the start while my mom kept me company. We hung out near the back of the crowd until the gun. Then I shed my jacket, gave it to my mom and got a final motherly hug and kiss (it’s the best feeling in the world to have people around you that care for you as much as my family and friends do). I watched the leaders running up to the first switchback on the dirt road, their swift movements illuminated in the morning darkness by the nearby lights of a ski lift, as I walked amongst the crowd under the start clock and onto the course.

That first four mile climb is absolutely gorgeous. As we climbed higher onto Squaw Valley’s slopes, the golden light broke over the mountains to the east and cast warm hues across the entire mountain. I was happy to be there. Shortly after the Escarpment Aid Station we hit the first patches of snow. Upon reaching the top of Emigrant Pass, I took a moment to look back over Squaw Valley, Lake Tahoe and the Sierra Nevadas. There’s definitely a reason why the Tahoe-area Sierras are my favorite place in the world. Soon after, I got in line as we all carried momentum down the dirt trail on the backside of the mountain. The trail heads north for about a quarter of a mile, then turns west to skirt the ridge. Soon the dirt was gone and snow prevailed. The trail held approximately the same topo line, heading gently downhill, following the ridge that loomed above and to the right. There was an ever-present left-facing side-slope that threw many people off guard on the icy surface. The snow was very interesting. It was summer corn, but frozen, making for a very sharp surface in the event of sliding skin. Numerous times I saw a dent in the snow accompanied by a significant patch of blood. The snow was also a quite uneven, dimpled from melting in the sun, only to be refrozen during the night. As we cruised along, some folks complained about the snow, some chatted about random events and many were silent, just a line of runners chugging along in the high country, with blue skies above and wonderfully crisp alpine air all around. I found my skiing and snowshoeing background to be very beneficial here, as traction seemed to come relatively easy to me. Looking back, this was my favorite part of the course. It was cold, exciting and very unique. We ran from ribboned tree to ribboned tree, following no discernable trail, just exploring the backcountry.

Eventually the snow turned to mud and we crossed a very cold river, and before I knew it we were at Talbot aid, mile 15. I still had plenty of water in my hydration pack so I grabbed some crackers and headed down the road, the snow now completely gone. The next five miles followed a fire road and then a paved road to the Poppy aid station. It was pretty, but fairly boring, but it passed quickly. At Poppy I switched shoes and socks (from Cascadias to Hokas). The next bit of trail was a very fun, rolling singletrack that skirted French Meadows reservoir. I can’t believe I’ve lived in Auburn for so long and have never been to French Meadows. I really wanted to jump in the cold blue water, pitch a tent and just camp for a couple days! The trail made its way through the old burn and into Duncan Canyon aid. After gathering supplies, water, etc, I continued on uneventfully.

It was 7 miles to the next aid at Mosquito Ridge Road and I was told there would be a climb. It was on this climb that I began to feel less than stellar. It was still not hot by any means, but it was definitely getting warmer. And I think that this warming, along with the long climb set off a chain reaction that would eventually derail me. I came into MRR approximately in the middle of the 24- and 30-hour paces. My weight was down, but not enough to cause concern. My stomach was uneasy, so I ate what I could and sucked on a ginger chew. I decided to walk for a little while to see if things would get better. Eventually I got tired of this and started back on a walk/run regimen, though it was still much slower than I wanted, especially this early in the race. By the time I hit Dusty Corners, I had full on nausea. I plopped down and was immediately helped by the amazing aid station volunteers there. They asked how much I had been drinking, gave me fluids and an S! Cap and told me to relax. I still was well ahead of the cutoffs. About 20 minutes later, I was ready to rock again. For some reason, I had related my nausea to nutrition and thought little of the possibility of dehydration. Looking back, I chalk this up to simple lack of experience and not being able to recognize my problems. Back on the trail, I had regained a solid pace and absolutely loved the views out around Pucker Point. That was such a fun trail that I think I could have enjoyed it for many more hours. I was drinking well again, or so I thought, and was getting some goldfish down, though I knew that by now I was becoming quite calorie deficient.

At last chance I slurped some broth, ate a square of grilled cheese sandwich and simply couldn’t resist a bite of cold, delicious watermelon. I knew I had had problems with oranges before, but I thought the watermelon would be okay. It turns out I was very wrong. I descended into the first canyon, the Hokas doing their job very well, as I felt smooth and fast heading toward the bottom. I took a moment at the bridge to admire the raging river passing below, and began the climb to Devil’s Thumb. I met two guys near the bottom and we climbed together slowly for a little while, taking rest breaks every once-in-awhile. But soon I couldn’t keep up. My energy was low (lack of calories) and I found my nausea coming back. I had to take more and more rests and got passed by more and more people. Eventually my mentality went from holding it down to just wishing it would come up. I even dry-heaved once near the top but my body wanted to hold onto the water in there so badly. I hadn’t peed at all since dusty corners and I had no idea how many calories I had taken in since then, but I knew it wasn’t much. I thought my hydration had been on the mend, but again I must have misjudged. How could so many mistakes happen in such quick succession? Hadn’t I learned anything from earlier in the day? Or was there a different cause for this illness? Either way, once I became nauseous, water intake diminished greatly. So if I wasn’t dehydrated at the bottom of the canyon, I definitely was by Devil’s Thumb.

I weighed in okay, but was told to sit and recover for a bit. I saw someone eating a popsicle and it looked like the greatest thing in the world, so I asked for one, unsure if I’d be able to eat it. Shortly after taking a seat and getting some ginger ale and a popsicle, a woman in a medical shirt came over and asked how I was doing. “I need to puke, but it’s not happening,” I said. She replied very matter-of-factly: “well, make it happen.” Then she walked away. That was all the motivation I needed, as I proceeded to the bushes to get it done. This is where I realized that watermelon was a bad choice, as all the other food I ate had been digested quickly, and the only thing that came out was watermelon and water. Unfortunately, the water I had weighed in with in my stomach was now gone. Back to dehydration. Even more unfortunately, as I kneeled there watching my body reject the nutrients it needed, I also watched my popsicle melt and slide off the stick into the dirt. Insult to injury at its finest. I just couldn’t help myself, and I started laughing at my own messed up situation.

Back in the chair, a volunteer came over and told me to get a move on. I wasn’t ready to go, but they were adamant. The cutoffs were closing in, and I wasn’t making up any time. I walked away from Devil’s Thumb feeling better than I had come in, but the feeling quickly faded, as any exertion at all caused reinvigorated nausea. And so I walked. The five mile walk down to El Dorado Creek was very long. My legs felt great and I wanted so badly to run, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I felt very non-tough here, wondering how many other people would just suck it up and run anyways. But no matter what I thought, I could barely keep my walk. I was ashamed and frustrated with my stomach. I wanted to just rip it out and see how far I could get without eating or feeling anything in there. At the bottom of the canyon, I was fed some broth and coke and had my pack refilled. I knew that unless I climbed to Michigan Bluff at a decent pace, I wouldn’t be able to make it. It was getting dark already and I realized how far off of my goal pace I was at this point. I began the climb with a safety runner, as my lights were at Michigan Bluff. He did an awesome job of talking to me, describing the trail and pointing out the stars and the sounds of the river. But I was not a good conversational companion, as I continually felt closer and closer to throwing up again. About three quarters up the climb, I realized what time it was, and knew that I would not make it. I had a vague feeling of this from the bottom of the canyon, and now I knew it was for sure. I was walking incredibly slowly, and had little time to make it to the aid. Soon after, the mounted sweeps caught up to us. I was now officially the last runner left on the course at this point in the race. This was the end.

So on to my thoughts. I have an incredible newfound respect for this race, this distance, and everyone who tackles it. I knew it would be huge, but it took 55 miles for me to begin to comprehend how huge this thing really was. And to be honest, I probably had no real business being out there. Not yet, anyways. But do I regret it? Do I regret my months of training, preparation, lifestyle choices, and planning? Hell no. I learned so much from the injuries and other issues I encountered in my journey to the start line. And I learned so much more in my 17 hours from Squaw Valley to Michigan Bluff. I was raised to embrace a go-for-broke mentality. Sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn’t. This time it didn’t, but I have always found the outcomes from this mentality to be net positive, so I will likely not change this tactic anytime soon. Biting off more than you can chew may cause you to choke, but in the meantime it will also make you a much better chewer. And while my third DNF this year stings a lot, I have so many takeaways for the future. I will no longer embrace one race per year as my capstone race, as I feel this mentality hindered my performance in earlier races in the year. I want to focus on them all and enjoy them all equally. I have a lot of experience and strength to gain as a runner before I am truly ready to run 100 miles, and I will probably wait at least three more years (and dozens more ultras) before I attempt 100 miles again. The next time I find myself at the start of a 100 (as I undoubtedly will), I want to feel 100% prepared and leaving very little to chance. I need to work on nutrition, hydration, and an understanding of the needs of my body in various conditions, as this seems to be my most common undoing. And finally, I have the most incredible group of people behind me: Kristen, my parents, her parents and brother Max, our extended families, our running buddies (Cal Poly Trail Runners, SLO Trail Runners, and everyone else I’ve met along the way), all our Auburn buddies, co-workers (present and future), roommates, and supporters. You all played a huge part in getting me to the start line. Eventually, I will make it to the finish line. You all mean so much to me and if there is ever a chance to repay the favor, I’ll be there in a heartbeat.

Next up is Kristen’s grand adventure at TRT 100! I’m super excited to pace her from mile 80 to the finish, and I hope my experience has been something for her to learn from going into her own challenge. I have no doubt that she will be the toughest person out there and I can’t wait to see what she can do.

Until next time, I need to find a fun 50k, something I can finish. Ya, that sounds nice:)

“Impossible is temporary…”
-Muhammed Ali

Chasing Down Lions

Lion King-esque thorn bushes

On top of a ridge above San Luis Obispo I found myself reliving a scene from the Lion King. Remember when Simba is running away from the hyenas? He finally escapes by jumping in a patch of prickly, thorn-like bushes that the hyenas won’t dare jump into. Then the hyena that always gets picked on(I can’t remember his name) gets pushed into the brush and has to limp home, pulling thorns out of his butt.

Now I wasn’t chasing any real lions on my run today(sorry if I got you excited with the title) but in my “chase” of trying to make it to the top of a ridge, I found myself totally surrounded by what I like to call “death bushes”.

Let’s back up a couple hours, to the start of this run. I was told by a “friend” *cough* Cody *cough* that if I were to start in a particular park in SLO, I’d be able to run through the back of it and up far enough to reach the grade above the school, where I could do various loops and make the run however long I had time for. I wanted a long afternoon on my feet, so I headed out with the intention of reaching the final grade and having a good run on a new trail, not realizing that my source of information was totally wrong.

My first introduction to El Chorro Regional Park was very thorough. I diligently scoured every trail, possible trail, fence, tree, blade of grass, scary sign(see picture), and hill that this park had to offer. There was no trail that would lead me up to the ridge where I wanted to go. I could see a trail waaaay off in the distance that looked like it could possibly be the one but I would have to a. climb over and through several barbed wire and hotwire fences, b. pass through what looked to be(according to the signs) a minefield, and c. sneak past the watchtower of the men’s colony next door in a way that wouldn’t make me look like an escaped convict. Hmmm…I was a little stuck but I wasn’t ready to give up. I was

Wasn't so sure about crossing over THIS fence...

wearing my new Nathan hydration pack that Cody gave me for my birthday, which was easily holding 2 liters of water, 2 odwalla bars, 5 gels, a camera, and a cell phone. I was ready for an adventure and I wasn’t about to let a few speed bumps hold me back. Yet…

I managed to get outside of the park and into a cow pasture. I hadn’t passed a no trespassing sign yet: all was good! I managed to find a pretty cool creek with a two-track trail following alongside, so I headed up the canyon for a ways to see where it went. It was going in the general direction of where I had originally wanted to go but by this point it didn’t really matter- I was out for a day of exploring. I could go anywhere! After crossing paths with a few lizards and soaking up the beautiful scenery for a while, the trail started to dwindle and then totally disappeared. I was able to follow a deer path down underneath some branches to get right in the creek. A mini waterfall made me pause for a minute before I headed up the bank on the opposite side. When I made it out of the brush and into an open meadow, I was renewed with the goal of reaching the top where I had originally wanted to go.

A beautiful spring day in San Luis Obispo :)

I can sometimes have the problem of focusing too hard on the next hill or the next spot where I want to go and not thinking about how I might get back. In my mind, I saw myself reaching the top, playing around, and then heading back on the trail I was originally supposed to be on where I could prance easily back to the car. This intense focus seemed to distract me from the fact that I was going up an incredibly steep, loose-rock hill and making my way into thicker and thicker brush. No worries, I thought, when I finally did look down to see how badly my bare legs were taking the rough vegetation, I would find a way up and around all this and be home free.

When I reached a ridge(not the final ridge that I was attempting to reach, just a smaller one on the path to the larger one) I tried all of my different options. I went to the left. That side just dropped off really abruptly- probably not the best way. Let’s try going back down the opposite side! That way was a sharp tangle of dead manzanita trees that looked almost impassible. Ok, all hope wasn’t yet lost. I started to the right and was even able to manage some sort of reasonable path for a while.

Death bushes everywhere!

But then the death bushes took over. Each time I sucessfully crawled under one particularly menacing bush, another one would be starring me down, waiting to fight. Fine. I let the bushes win. This time. I was forced to make my way back down the hill on the same path I had come up from. Between a little bit of sliding, leaping and bush grabbing, I was able to make my way back to the creek without too many issues.

I used the rest of my time on the way back to reflect on what I want to get out of running.
Cody and I have already been talking about lately how we want to get away from the focus of specific miles and specific practice. Obviously, we’ll still need to spend a lot of time on our feet if we ever want to reach our goal of 100 miles, but it would be nice to stay excited about running all the way through training. Running shouldn’t have to be a chore- we’re doing this for fun, after all! It was really nice to be able to easily stray from what my original plan was today. To let myself explore, have fun, and really enjoy running for what it’s meant to be.